Versailles native and Washington Nationals pitcher Craig Stammen details his absence from baseball in 2015 due to a severe elbow injury and subsequent Tommy John surgical procedure. His story of hard work and determination to return to form next year makes for an interesting read and great insight into a less-than-happy side of major league baseball.
By Craig Stammen
Washington D.C. – The 2015 baseball season started off just like any other year. My off-season was filled with lots of good throwing sessions, plenty of work in the weight room, and the running every pitcher must do to get his arm and body in shape for the grueling 162 game MLB season. Spring Training in Florida flew by in anticipation for a World Series run for the Washington Nationals.
However, just one week into this season, everything I had set out to accomplish came to a grinding halt when I went down with a season-ending injury just 8 games into the season. The years of pitching since I was 10 years old, and the work load I had endured throughout my major league career had finally caught up to me. I had surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in my elbow on April 19th and my season, which had been filled with hopes of pitching in a World Series, was now relegated to rooting for my teammates and practicing some sideline leadership skills!
Yet, all was not lost. This season has brought much pain, but also much reward, and as the season winds down to a conclusion, it turned out to be a summer like none I’d had in a long, long time.
After the initial shock of realizing I was not going to be playing baseball during the summer for the first time since I was 7 years old, I had to look forward to what was ahead and tackle it with enthusiasm, a positive attitude, and the same focus and desire that it took to get to the major leagues in the first place. Most people do not realize that there is a rather big sacrifice to get there. Not only have we put in long hours among the ups and downs of 0 for 4 and giving up game winning home runs, but we have also sacrificed our summers since we were very young to pursue the dream.
For me it meant I hadn’t been on a summer vacation since I was in 8th grade, I hadn’t been to Versailles Poultry Days in 10 years, and it has been even longer since I’ve seen the North Star Hardware & Implement’s North Star Picnic Parade Float waltz down North Star-Ft. Loramie Rd. Now, don’t feel sorry for me, because I love baseball and everything that comes with it, but I found myself with a whole lot more time on my hands than I was used to! The question was, what was I to do with it?
The doctors, trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, and my physical therapist all came up with a plan that would put me in the best position to pitch in the 2016. 2015 was lost to playing, but there was much to be gained in preparation for my next chance on the mound.
My rehab consisted of seeing my physical therapist, Dr. Liz Wheeler three times a week where she did things from manual massage and strengthening to seeing how long I could hold my self above the bar on a pull-up. Without her expertise I wouldn’t be feeling as good as I do right now. Along with the therapy, the strength coach for the Washington Nationals, John Philbin, and I have become almost inseparable. Our weight lifting program was to lift four times a week, two upper body lifts and two lower body lifts with core training almost every day. Our conditioning program was to do either 1-hour of cardio of 30 min. of cardio depending on our lifting routine that day. As my rehab continued and the lifting got heavier the running was changed to doing 3 days of distance running, sometimes up to 5 miles, and 3 days of shorter sprints. Sundays were my days off. Boy did I look forward to Sundays. I became very grateful of the Sabbath this season.
Outside of all the training, I attended every home game, but I did not travel with the team on the road. It was better for me to stay in D.C. to continue the rehab. I was able to see the game similarly to how fans see games…on T.V. I’ve learned a lot from seeing the game and my teammates from another perspective. It was great time for me to try to help the team as best I could even without being able to play. I tried to challenge myself to be the best possible teammate and continue to lead in the bullpen through the good times and the bad. It has been a difficult season for the Washington Nationals, but we remain committed to each other and they’ve been a great source of encouragement for me regarding coming back next year.
When the team was on the road I was also able to do a few things that I haven’t been able to do in the summer!
As long as I had all of my rehab completed I was free to come and go as I pleased. Among the highlights were attending the Craig Stammen Classic, the North Star Picnic, running in the “Angel Run” (first time since my senior year of football), and being at my brothers bachelor party at Norris Lake, Tennessee. The few weekends I was able to go back “home” were relaxing and enjoyable.
I realized how privileged I am to come from a place like the Miami Valley! It was also a great time for me to lower my handicap, which I’m not sure I accomplished, but I enjoyed trying. Although this summer was without baseball, I have the satisfaction of having done the work necessary to get back to my normal routine…next summer!
I look forward to missing those summer vacations for at least another few years!